Hello, my name is Sushmitha Ravikumar and the purpose of my STEP project was to help me explore more performance opportunities in Indian Carnatic Classical music and promote Indian Carnatic music and diversity through music. This past summer, I had the opportunity of performing in several venues across the country. Each performance was challenging in different ways and throughout this summer I have grown tremendously as a musician.
I had several concerts this summer which are listed below:
October 10th, 2015- Vocal concert for Pallavi Darbar Bridhavani in New Jersey
September 26th- 27th- Vocal concert in Toronto
September 5th, 2015- Youth festival in California
August 8th, 2015- Violin concert in Lima and Anubhava Dance tour
July 31st- August 2nd, 2015- Chicago temple for Adithya Chakravarthy
July 19th, 2015- Solo violin concert in Dayton, Ohio
July 5th, 2015- Vocal concert in the Cleveland temple
June 27th, 2015- Arangetram for Pallavi in Pittsburgh
June 21st, 2015- Arangetram for Ria Datla
June 20th, 2015- Columbus Sai Baba temple and concert for Smt. Vasanthi Ramesh
June 13th and 14th, 2015- Youth festival in Washington D.C.
May 30th, 2015- Youth festival in Rochester, New Jersey
However, I wanted to highlight a few concerts that were transformative for me.
I began my summer concert season in New Jersey where I accompanied a vocalist for one concert and a saxophone artist for another concert. Although I have previously accompanied for concerts before, this was the first time I accompanied for a saxophonist. It was challenging because the instrument itself has a different tonal quality and is played much different than traditional instruments. Because the saxophone is traditionally a western instrument, which has only recently been adapted into eastern music, the concert was a great opportunity for me to bridge the gap between eastern and western music and diversify my skillset in accompanying.
Later on, I played for an arangetram, or first recital, for a girl named Pallavi in Pittsburgh. I have played for dance arangetrams, but this was my first time playing for a vocal arangetram. This concert was definitely a challenge for me and pushed me to work hard. Because arangetrams are first recitals for the main artist, the accompanist cannot make mistakes because it can distract the main artist. Therefore, I had to be extra attentive to make sure everything I was playing was perfect and this was a difficult task since most of Carnatic music is improvisation! But, this experience helped me focus on minute intricacies in my own playing and helped me strive more for perfection than I normally do.
A couple weeks after that I had a solo violin concert. I have done many violin solos as a trio with one or two other instruments, but I have never done a violin solo completely by myself with only drums to accompany me. Playing a complete violin solo was challenging because it is harder to keep an audience entertained for an hour and a half without the additional support. Therefore, I practiced and tried many new instrumental techniques that I typically don’t do in concerts, which enabled me to step out of my comfort zone. I also decided to include some challenging keys, which further pushed me to grow as a solo violinist.
More recently, I joined a production tour, Anubhava, which includes six dancers and six musicians of my age. The unique aspect of Anubhava is that it is the first group of all students born and brought up in North America to choreograph and set all the music for the performance without external aid. This was a very thrilling experience for me because I was able to set my own music. Being a part of this performance was also challenging because I had to play with emotion to match the mood of the dancers. Typically, I play what I feel is right, but here, I had to pay more attention to the story the dancers were telling and match the story’s mood. Moreover, our group decided to take on a bigger challenge by using our creativity to try a different piece, Ragam Thanam Pallavi, which is typically never done in dance productions. This completely transformed my view of dance productions and showed me that music doesn’t have to only be choreographed to dance, but that the dance can be choreographed to music. What added to the complexity was that all the practicing was done online and quickly rehearsed the day of the performance. Therefore, I had to be quick to pick up on cues, learn new pieces in a short time frame, and also be flexible since anything could change.
Learning music has always been a passion of mine and performing music has helped me enhance my professional goals to give performances and teach music when I grow older in addition to my academic professional career as an engineer. My performances have ranged from playing for dance recitals, to vocal recitals, to international music festivals where I am able to connect and intermix Indian music with other forms of music. This year, my goal was continue to perform throughout North America and promote diversity through music and this summer I have achieved that in different ways and have grown as a musician as a result. I have challenged myself in ways that I never would have imagined, pushed myself to utmost creativity, and certainty stepped out of my comfort zone. I plan to continue giving performances and expanding my skills. Ultimately, these efforts will help me continue to expand my creative boundaries and work with organizations to maintain an international connection.